How to really take advantage of a recovery day

Sometimes we love them, other times we hate them, but we all know we need them every now and then. Rest days are a tricky topic, especially for trail and ultra runners.

Francesco Puppi – coach.

We all feel we need to be doing more to become better runners, and somehow sitting on the sofa doesn’t feel productive, but it does a lot more for us than what we think. Day off can be referred to as “recovery days” or “adaptation days” as this is essentially what they are for but often we think of them more as “lost days”, which they definitely aren’t. 

While we value rest, many in society talk about sleep and rest as a weakness. Resting is for those who don’t want to succeed. Regardless of what time you went to bed, you need to be out the door for that 6am run. Training harder is all you need to do. That’s why many runners think that recovery time is equal to a regression, but the truth is the complete opposite. Rest days allow our bodies to go harder in sessions as you will feel stronger, less fatigued, and ready to go again.

Having a regular day off helps to keep you mentally and physically strong. In fact, we do not improve only when we are performing a training session, but mainly during the (much longer) time between a training sessions, developing alongside training a proper recovery. If we want to maximize our training potential, taking care of recovery as an integral part of training becomes crucial: something that is often neglected. Stress plus rest equals growth!

Four good reasons to take advantage of a recovery day are that they:

  • Allow muscle reparation
  • Avoid stress fracture and other impact related injuries
  • Give solace to tendons and ligaments
  • Give rest to the mind, not only to the body

The frequency of rest days varies from athlete to athlete and from what part of the season we’re in. One runner may benefit from consistently having the same day each week reserved for their rest day, another may work in a 10-day cycle, or someone else may take their rest day as and when they feel their body needs it.

Active recovery or complete rest? 

There is also active recovery. The idea is that this promotes blood flow to the muscles and helps speed up the recovery process. Many athletes do this, and the idea of a 30-minute easy run or an easier training cycle can be restful if stuck in the middle of a 100-mile week, but ask yourself if it is truly helping you recover and if you are really taking it easy enough on those efforts.

Take it seriously

When you finally agree on the benefits of recovery and rest days from running, you can fall into the trap of getting extra stuff done. Maybe just spending extra hours at work because you know you don’t have to go running. Yet recovery should be the focus. The hour you might have spent training should be actively spent recovering. Take the chance to treat yourself well: do one hour of self-care work, visit a friend, bake a cake, take a nap, read a book or just sit on the couch with your dog. It’s ok to do a bit of light activity like yoga, foam rolling, stretching if you feel like, but the main thing is not to feel forced to do anything, even from a mental point of view.

Nutrition and hydration are important too 

Do not starve yourself or restrict your diet under the assumption that “you’re not doing anything” so you should cut down on the food you eat. It’s important to understand that your body needs all the nutrients to undergo the process of recovering, so you need to be re-fueling. The same thing applies for hydration: a dehydrated body cannot recover as well.

An important part of success

One reason why many great athletes give credit to their success is that they treat rest as a part of training, something just as important as other workouts, not something to escape from. Take your rest days seriously, learn to listen to yourself and you will see the benefits. Then post about that on Instagram instead.

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